In my second large installment of home automation, testing continues on finding the perfect balance between reliability and user interface. Mixing a wide variety of devices on multiple platforms I continued to seek the best aggregating hub on the market today. Can we finally call someone the winner, or is this still a work in progress? My testing this time around included the new Wink Relay, putting that to the test with the Wink Hub versus Staples Connect’s new D-Link Hub. Also deeper testing was performed on the Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge. And finally, I added some new hardware such as the Schlage Connect door locks, flood and tamper sensors from Aeotec and Fibaro, and more!
IMPORTANT: Before you read this review you should START WITH MY FIRST HOME AUTOMATION POST. In that review I talk about the reasons behind my decisions to include/exclude certain devices. That post also explains that my home is older and lacks neutral wiring at most locations. After my testing I found that the Lutron Caseta In-Wall Dimmer was the best option for my home when it came to smart switches, and the only ones that worked for me. Again, start there, and then come back to this follow-up post!
UPDATE (NOV/2015)- Over a year has passed since this blog post/review was completed. Though I do suggest you read it first, there is a great follow-up post as we head into the 2015 shopping season. After you finish this entry be sure to check out the recently added HUGE SMART HOME COMPARISON! – The new post covers everything from Apple HomeKit, to Samsung SmartThings, to Wink Connected Home Hub, and much, much more!
During my last home automation review I used bullet points to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of each device that I tested. Although this test includes only 3 hubs, and then 3 other add-on devices, I’m going to follow that same format. I’ll save my final thoughts for the end, but as you read this remember that each home is unique. The devices you decide to add to your house will potentially dictate, moving forward, what else you can add. Ideally then you should start off looking not just at what you want to add immediately, but also down the road, so that you can ensure everything remains as compatible as you desire.
At the time of writing this article, my “smart home” includes the following hardware:
– Staples Connect Hub – Smart Home Central Hub (Supports various protocols, aggregates them)
– Lutron Caseta Switches – 18 total (On/Off + Dimmer variations)
– Lutron Caseta Pico Switches – 7 total (for 3-way purposes and others)
– Lutron Caseta Plug-in Dimmer – 3 total (fish tank, lamp, etc)
– Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge
– D-Link Day/Night Camera (Model DCS-933L)
– Schlage Connect Camelot Touchscreen Deadbolts (2 total, Zwave)
– Aeotec Water Sensor (Zwave)
– Fibaro Flood Sensor (Zwave)
– GE Link Smart Bulbs (LED, 2 total)
– Wink Home Hub + Wink Relay Wall Controller
– Nest Learning Thermostat
– Chamberlain MyQ Garage Door Opener System
– Rachio IRO Home Irrigation System (8-zone)
As discussed in the original blog post, these smart hubs from various companies such as Wink and Staples are meant to aggregate your devices, regardless of who the manufacturer. Unlike kits from competitors like Insteon and SmartThings, who rely mostly on their own hardware, the Wink/Staples units have a broad spectrum of 3rd party support. With that in mind, how did they stack up as I tested them more since my first review?
Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge
- Picking up where I left off the Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge was my hub of choice because it just works. It is blazing fast, and super reliable. It offers a basic feature set, but doesn’t do fancy things like geofencing, or integrating with third parties. In that regard it is a lot like the Philips Hue hardware out there.
- As you can see in the photos below, I had plenty of automatic timed events to make my home experience better. And working the app to turn on/off lights was a breeze. For people who need switches that are smart, work with LED bulbs, and don’t require a neutral wire, I still recommend the Lutron Caseta Switches, but you may want to skip their hub if you want more features. I wanted more features beyond just light control, so while I use Lutron switches, I also ended up going to the Wink/Staples for more integration.
Wink Relay & Wink Hub
- From a user interface, the Wink Home Hub and corresponding iOS software remain the most attractive. I’m not a huge fan of the changes they recently made to the Lights page (icons versus sliders), but overall the app is without a doubt the most cosmetically gorgeous of the bunch. Recently changes to the layout are also a bit counter-intuitive (with the Robots and Shortcuts pages sort of oddly places). But I understand what they are going for and see the folks at Wink working REALLY hard to make a good-looking product.
- However, as good as it looks, the whole system is just still too flaky for me. As you’ll see in the very last Wink photo below, I would often open the app to find bulb data incorrect, or missing entirely. This was an issue exclusive to the Wink system, that NEVER occurred with others. And even when you turned a light off, sometimes the image wouldn’t update correctly on the screen. And there remains horrible lag time from app press, to action. Generally speaking the system just did not perform as expected or needed to be called good, or reliable.
- Recently Wink released their new Wink Relay Wall Controller and many of the photos below are of that unit. It is gorgeous in hardware design, high quality and easy to install. However, again I had issues with it. Those issues include but are not limited to: wall unit’s OS crashed a few times (Android), system would lock up and need removed and reinstalled on the wall, unit would stay on (display) even when no motion was detected, and of course the same lag issues that the main hub had.
- Also during my testing I played around with some GE Link Smart Bulbs which utilize Zigbee protocols. These bulbs are VERY nice, and for about $15 each they are a steal of a deal. My two main issues with smart bulbs remain that most of them, post-power-failure, will turn on to 100% brightness (not ideal for bedrooms that experience a middle of night power failure). And second, the fact that they are rendered useless if someone cuts the main power off at the wall (switch turned to off). Issues like this are resolved with some new modern switches, including Wink’s own Quirky + GE Tapt Smart Wall Switch, though the jury is still out on if smart bulbs are better than smart switches (they are cheaper, though, so that is good).
- At the end of the day the Wink Home Hub and Wink Relay Wall Controller were good but not great products. The Wife gave me a hard time about the flaky performance, and the amount of times I found it missed a light turning on/off during a group-activity was enough for me to say that Wink has huge potential, but needs more time to polish their product. Sorry guys, you have GREAT tech support, but that doesn’t matter if the product doesn’t do what I want properly.
Staples Connect (D-Link version)
- Last time I tested the Staples Connect system, it was their older Linksys hub. Since then they have released a new hub that is made by D-Link, is black, and looks almost like my Apple AirPort Extreme router. This new unit adds more radios, better antennas, and other tricks up their sleeve. At the time of writing this article (Dec-14-2014) they have not yet activated the Zigbee radio (so I was unable to test it with the GE Link Smart Bulbs), and other updates have been rumored that will increase the enjoyment and interface of the unit. If/when that happens I’ll either update this post, or make another new one.
- Meanwhile, testing of this unit proved that reliability similar to that of the Lutorn Caseta Smart Bridge was possible from a 3rd party product. This device handled my Lutorn Caseta Switches with grace, offering instant response time from controls via both the iOS app, and their VERY useful web portal (which offers the same control as your phone would). I’ll admit I did miss having the convenience in my kitchen that the Wink Relay Wall Controller offered, but I’ll take solid reliability over pretty hardware any day. Speaking of that, pretty is not the word I’d use to describe the Staples Connect iOS interface. It is functional, but at times clunky.
- As you can see in the photos below, I added some extra sensors during my Staples Connect time. These were Zwave devices that would have worked probably just as nicely with the Wink hardware, but since the Wink did NOT perform as desired for my light switches, I did not test those devices on their system. At this point I recommend the Staples Connect over the Wink for reliability, but for beauty the Wink wins. But really, the Staples just does more for me– you can have it take you directly to a certain screen when certain alerts occur (i.e.: garage door sensor was open? it can take you right to that camera). There are a LOT of similarities to the Staples vs Wink hubs, and there are certain items that I own that Wink supports that Staples does not (such as my Nest Thermostat, Chamberlain MyQ, and Rachio Irrigation System)
- After settling on the Staples Connect system for now, it was time to test more toys/add-ons. Because the brand of the Staples Connect hub was D-Link, my first test was to add a D-Link Day/Night Camera, their most economical option. Some of the more expensive cameras can trigger motion sensors in the SC hub, not just in the D-Link software, but this one does not. Still the picture quality was good and setup was quick and painless. If you’re looking to add a camera to the Staples system, you’ll end up with a D-Link brand. If you want to add a camera to the Wink hub, the Dropcam is more expensive, but a nice option there for their hub.
- Two big things the Staples hub lacks that I’d like are Geofencing, and NEST support. Perhaps their next big update will add that (when they unlock the Zigbee radio). They do, however, have support for devices like the UP 24 by Jawbone, that will trigger activities when you enter/exit sleep mode on your activity tracker. Stay tuned, I have a feeling the battle between the Wink and Staples hubs has just begun!
Schlage Connect Dead bolts
- When it comes to home door hardware, Schlage brand is my favorite. When we moved into our current house almost 6 years ago I updated all the exterior door hardware to their entry-level stuff, knowing I’d eventually want to get some nicer fixtures. Now that I had the time and funds, I decided it was time to make The Wife happy with some brushed finish details. Enter the Schlage Connect, as shown in the photos below. Handles were also upgraded, and all key cylinders were matched to the same matching key.
- One thing I’ve argued (at least with myself) is that nobody really makes a NFC or Bluetooth smart lock that I think makes sense. There are some cool options out there, but many of them require people download that proprietary app. That might sound fine, but does that mean I’d need 3 different apps to unlock 3 different friend’s doors when they invite me over? Seems a pain. Since there is no universal standard, I personally felt the 4 or 6 digit codes that these units from Schlage offered were more sensible. It also was simpler for those folks with dumb-phones (or who just can’t handle the concept of using their phone anyhow to open the door). Codes work fine for garage doors, so why not door locks?
- Installation of the Schlage hardware was incredibly easy, almost to the point where I was worried I had missed something when it all happened so quick. Two default codes come programmed, but you definitely need to read the manual step by step to get things going if you want to change settings. Sadly the unit isn’t intuitive, but that is primarily because you’re dealing with entering numbers into the panel to initiate sequences. Not a big deal, just don’t lose your owners manual.
- Syncing the Schlage Connect hardware up to my Staples hub (Zwave) was easy, and worked perfect the first try. I have noted that since then there was the occasional hiccup of a missed lock or unlock, but very rarely. I’d say 99% reliability here, and some of those issues early on may have been my trying to lock and then unlock in too quick a succession.
- When it comes to door locks there are a LOT of options, with more coming out regularly. I went with a brand I knew and trusted, and also with Zwave protocols because that is fairly standard for future flexibility. If you’re shopping home automation be careful what brand you get and more important, what frequency they communicate on. Make sure the locks you get will work with the hub system you want, or already have.
Aeotec Water Sensor
- This past summer we had a sewer backup that caused flooding in our basement. This caused damage that exceeded $1,000 in repairs and cleaning requirements. Though the city has fixed some drains noted as being the fault at the street end, we don’t want to have that repeat again. I’ve longed for a flood/water sensor in the basement that would monitor the house. The incident also got me thinking about my hot water tank which wasn’t young, but wasn’t that old just yet. I’ve heard horror stories from people of a tank rupture, so my goal was two-fold here. Firstly, monitor the drain area. Secondly, monitor the hot water tank area.
- Below are photos of the Aeotec Water Sensor, which was utilized in my case for my hot water tank. Though hard to see in the photos, the metal prongs here touch the ground, right at the base of the tank itself. Should my hot water tank leak in any fashion, this corner is at the lowest elevation (the floor is pitched slightly) so water should drain into/past those prongs. As you can see above in the Staples Connect photos, the sensor will show wet/dry conditions. This unit doesn’t have any custom settings, but it does have a nice long battery life. Note you can use it to provide feedback both for the presence of, or absence of water! This is useful if you want to position it to notify if you of a fish tank or other similar device being low on water supply.
- Overall I was pleased with the build quality, the simple installation, and the basic simplicity of this device. If you just want a simple trigger for water/flood, this is a nice little piece of kit to consider. However, for more fun and data, check out the next device…
Fibaro Flood Sensor
- Funny thing about testing all these devices is that some of the hardware I’ll setup, but hopefully never touch again. Such is the case here with the Fibaro Flood Sensor. It is similar to the Aeotec in that it can sense water/flood situations. But what it brings to the table is a pair of added benefits beyond just that.
- First off, the Fibaro unit adds motion sensing. Internally it has movement sensors that let you know the device has been tampered with. While this provides you feedback to let you know someone has moved the device (which is cause for concern to check if the device is no longer in the desired location), but it also actually gives this device a second purpose. Suddenly this unit isn’t just a water sensor, but can also be used in cases where you don’t want anyone to tamper with an item. Imagine using this hidden inside of some box/case of collectibles, alerting you of theft. Or any other circumstance where the movement of the device would be feasible to trigger a warning for you.
- Secondly, the Fibaro unit adds temperature sensing. And what is really trick here is that using the manual (and some rather complex instructions), you an adjust the pre-loaded high/low temperature ranges to trigger at custom levels. I do wish the settings were easier to follow, but I get the limitations dealing with a low battery consumption Zwave basic device. For me the default settings (33F to 95F) were fine for high/low alerts. My NEST Thermostat works fine for that anyhow, and has similar range settings. If you don’t plan to change these settings, then getting the Fibaro going was easy. It is only if you want to REALLY customize the features of the unit that it becomes more complex.
- Overall the Fibaro Flood Sensor was one of my favorite ones to setup, because it adds a way to keep tabs on my basement temperature, but also will let me know if someone moves the device away from the drain where it needs to stay for my monitoring purposes. It was a cute, simple and cheap little device. But it does a lot of tasks nicely. By the way I did test the tamper and water features on this device, plus the water sensor on the Aeotec. And once the winter temps get low enough outside maybe I’ll test the low-temp range too and see how that goes!
In the end I’m happy with my Staples Connect setup, even if the interface is a bit messy to me. For now I love that I can use my Lutorn Caseta Pico Switches to control non-Lutron devices. This allows me to have a remote at my bed side that can lock the doors to the house, turn off the lights, and switch off an outlet. However, their lack of integration with my irrigation system or thermostat are a bummer. And the fact that they use a different system for garage door monitoring is also a weak point. (I do think I may consider changing to their garage system down the road, if I commit myself deeper to their hub).
If you’re looking for the best hub options out there, be sure to consider what you want to integrate. For me, and my hardware, the best option was the Staples Connect. But if the Wink folks add some reliability and speed to their system, it will be a contender. For those just getting started, consider making a list of the devices you want to buy (by grouping) — then write down the various brands and protocols they would transmit. Then find a hub that supports those features.
You can’t go wrong with any hub these days, whether you get an INSTEON Starter Kit, or a Wink Home Hub or even something from SmartThings or Logitech. And what works best for me may not be the best for you. Just be aware that with big trade shows coming around the corner, and Google and Apple making big plays in the home automation space, you can expect changes that will disrupt this whole segment for months to come. Whatever you do, be wary of going too deep too quick, in this ever-changing landscape that is the fun and fickle land of technology! Happy holidays.